Occasionally I write satirical pieces for this blog, and last week I wanted to put something together where the president’s supporters made the case that his “We don’t have a strategy yet” comment on Islamic State was really a masterstroke that Sun Tzu would applaud. It turns out that Joe Scarborough was thinking along the same lines — except he may really believe Obama is a strategic genius straight out of the pages of “The Art of War.”
Given that Joe Scarborough is the guy who would rather boycott Burger King over its decision to merge with Tim Hortons than to figure out why iconic American companies are heading to Canada, it’s probably safe to say (sadly) that he wasn’t joking.
“The Morning Joe” panel said on Aug. 29:
Scarborough: “This is straight out of ‘The Art of War.'”
Panelist: “I can’t tell if you’re joking or not.”
Scarborough: “No, I’m not joking. No, I’m not — I am dead serious. I’m not joking. It’s straight out of ‘The Art of War’ where, when you were weak, you make you enemies think you are strong. When you are strong, you make your enemies think you are weak. If I’m about to attack another country, no, I would say — No, if I were about to attack another country I would say ‘You know what, we don’t have a strategy. We’re still working it out. You know. And then I would say ‘Scramble the jets. Scramble the jets.’ Right? … Okay, I’m sorry. Am I wrong?”
Here is an excerpt from “The Art of War”:
“Strike at their gaps, attack when they are lax, don’t let the enemy figure out how to prepare. This is why it is said that in military operations formlessness is the most effective. One of the great warrior-leaders said, ‘The most efficient of movements is the one that is unexpected; the best of plans is the one that is unknown,” (Meng Shi).
“To divulge means to leak out. The military has no constant form, just as water has no constant shape — adapt as you face the enemy, without letting them know beforehand what you are going to do. Therefore, assessment of the enemy is in the mind, observation of the situation is in the eyes,” (Cao Cao).
“When your strategy is deep and far-reaching, then what you gain by your calculations is much, so you can win before you even fight. When your strategic thinking is shallow and nearsighted, then what you gain by your calculations is little, so you lose before you do battle. Much strategy prevails over little strategy, so those with no strategy cannot but be defeated,” (Zhang Yu).
What is more likely: That the U.S. military has plenty of strategies for defeating Islamic State, which Mr. Obama simply hasn’t decided on because he’s struck with political paralysis, or that the U.S. military doe not have a strategy? My bet is that Mr. Obama’s advisers have given him countless plans, which have all been rejected because actual leadership requires making decisions that are politically unpopular. It’s much easier to “lead from behind” and depend on others to come up with a strategy than it is to take charge and make decisions that you know will cost good men and women their lives.
Perhaps the “conservative” Mr. Scarborough should read The Washington Post. The paper wrote on Aug. 29:
His senior advisers uniformly have warned of the unprecedented threat to America and Americans represented by Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq. But Mr. Obama didn’t seem to agree. “Now, ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] poses an immediate threat to the people of Iraq and to people throughout the region,” he said. “My priority at this point is to make sure that the gains that ISIL made in Iraq are rolled back.” Contrast that ambition with this vow from Secretary of State John F. Kerry: “And make no mistake: We will continue to confront ISIL wherever it tries to spread its despicable hatred. The world must know that the United States of America will never back down in the face of such evil.”
The discrepancies raise the question of whether Mr. Obama controls his own administration, but that’s not the most disturbing element. His advisers are only stating the obvious: Russia has invaded Ukraine. The Islamic State and the Americans it is training are a danger to the United States. When Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. says the threat they pose is “in some ways . . . more frightening than anything I think I’ve seen as attorney general,” it’s not because he is a warmonger or an alarmist. He’s describing the world as he sees it. When Mr. Obama refuses to acknowledge the reality, allies naturally wonder whether he will also refuse to respond to it.
That is not the hallmark behavior of a man who has read Sun Tzu. It is the tell-tale sign of a man who stepped into the batter’s box before he ever took a fastball. As strikeout after strikeout piles up, he continues to blame everyone except himself for his inability lead the team to victory.
The problem for the president is that the Islamic State group isn’t a mere rival of the Chicago White Sox — it’s a terrorist organization. When the president strikes out on matters of national security, innocent Americans die.
If Joe Scarborough was joking about the president’s “We don’t have a strategy” remark, then he should stop because Islamic State isn’t a laughing matter. If he was serious and he really believes the president knows exactly what he’s doing, then the MSNBC host should explain how Libya’s fall to Islamic radicals, Iraq’s implosion, the annexation of Crimea to Russia and the the invasion of eastern Ukraine (the president still calls it an “incursion”) all fit into Mr. Obama’s master plan.
Read “The Art of War” again, Mr. Scarborough. You’re having a lot trouble putting things into their proper context.